Apple MacBook Pro 13 with Retina vs Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

The new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon represents a revolution in the company’s conservative enterprise line. Though still matte black, expensive and powerful, the revised model adds an extremely high-resolution display and a unique keyboard layout with function keys that change their purpose depending on the program you’re using. Does this mean that professionals should pick up the new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, or is the Apple MacBook Pro 13 with Retina still the king of high-end notebooks?

Design & Features: Tie

Like other new ThinkPads, the X1 Carbon retains the matte black finish of older models, but abandons the soft-touch exterior finish that helped define the line for years. This makes the X1 more attractive at first glance, but it’s not enough to compete with the MacBook, which feels and looks more luxurious.

Still, the X1 feels light and modern. Weighing just 2.8 pounds, its about a half-pound less than the Mac, and the X1 is only slightly thicker; up to .79 inches at its broadest point. This means the X1 is even easier to carry than the Pro.

LeNovo X1 Carbon top keyboard

Lenovo offers the X1 with an optional 2560×1440 touchscreen and a unique row of function keys which are LED-backlit and can change based on the app you’re using. Lenovo has also re-located a few buttons and altered others; the normal location of the Caps Lock key now houses the Home and End buttons, for example. And, of course, Lenovo provides the trackpointer, a red nubbin in the middle of the keyboard that can be used for mouse navigation. 

The MacBook has less input options, but what’s available is excellent. The Mac’s keyboard is arguably the better of the two because of its excellent key feel, highly adjustable backlight and conventional layout. As for the touchpad, well, it’s no contest – Apple’s remains the best in the business.

Comparing other features puts the competitors in a back-and-forth with no clear winner. The Mac provides two Thunderbolt ports, but the ThinkPad has a fingerprint reader. Apple provides a higher-resolution standard screen, but Lenovo can offer touch. The Pro provides 802.11ac standard, but the X1 has it as an option, and can be equipped for mobile broadband. Ultimately, you’ll have to take a look at the features yourself to decide which system is a better fit.

Performance: Mac wins

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 can be purchased with several processors, but the Core i5-4200U comes standard. The Core i5-4200U has a base clock of 1.6 GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost clock of 2.6 GHz. High-end versions of the X1 sport a Core i7-4600U, which has a base clock of 2.1 GHz and a Turbo Boost maximum of 3.3 GHz.

The Apple MacBook Pro 13 with Retina, on the other hand, ships with a standard Core i5-4258U. Though the 4258U’s Turbo Boost caps at 2.9 GHz, it has a base clock of 2.4 GHz, so it performs well under a wide variety of loads. A comparison of each model’s base configuration gives Apple a clear lead, not only because of its quicker processor, but also because it serves up Intel HD 5100 graphics rather than Intel HD 4400, which the X1’s only choice.

Otherwise, the two systems are similar. Both come standard with a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM. The Mac can be equipped with more RAM (16GB instead of 8GB) and a larger SSD (1TB vs 512GB) from the factory, however, so its lead grows if you plan to spend a fortune on a loaded model.

Display: Mac wins

The MacBook Pro 13 with Retina has a standard 2560×1600 display. The X1 can be optioned with a 2560×1440 touchscreen, but it costs $150 extra. An unimpressive 1600×900 non-touch panel is standard.

Even the X1’s upgraded panel falls a bit short of the Mac’s. Though its resolution is similar to the Pro with Retina, the Lenovo’s larger 14-inch display size translates to slightly fewer pixels per inch. Our tests also revealed that the ThinkPad can render just 84 percent of the sRGB spectrum, a figure that fails to beat the Ultrabook average, nevermind Apple’s Retina.

Portability: Tie

Apple is hard to beat when it comes to endurance, as the MacBook Pro 13 with Retina can last up to twenty hours at idle and withstand almost six and a half hours of heavy web browsing. The X1, meanwhile, can last up to ten hours at idle or handle about five hours of non-stop browsing.

MacBook Pro 13 2013 back side angle

These numbers are clearly in the Mac’s favor, but Lenovo has some tricks up its sleeve. First is the company’s RapidCharge technology, which can charge the battery from 0 percent to full in only one hour. This means that while the Mac lasts longer, the X1 will be easier to recharge during your layover. Lenovo also offers more detailed power management features, such as a Wi-Fi switch that completely disables all wireless transmitters.

And it’s worth pointing out, yet again, that the X1 is a 14-inch system that weighs a tad less than three pounds. That’s an incredible screen-to-weight ratio, and it means that the featherweight ThinkPad won’t burden you on cross country, or cross-terminal, treks.

Price & Conclusion: Mac wins

Both companies did us a favor by pricing their respective entries identically; $1,299. That makes the value comparison simple. Apple wins. The MacBook Pro 13 with Retina offers a better display, a faster processor and longer battery life at the same price, traits that assure its victory.

Still, the X1 managed to pull off a tie in two areas, and its unique combination of features may make it appeal to certain buyers. The ThinkPad charges its battery more quickly, has a unique set of customizable function keys, can be purchased with mobile broadband support, and weighs less despite its larger display. While the MacBook remains king, business travelers who like their portable office to be as light as possible may prefer the X1.

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